Checking email constantly is making bosses bad at being the boss

Researchers showed that the high volume of email that managers receive places a heavy load on their mission and prevent them from achieving higher goals.

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No one’s saying you have to check your email right now, even if you are the boss.

Engaging with the constant minutiae of email isn’t only slowing managers down – it’s preventing them from doing their more important work as a leader and the major parts of their job. Instead, many find themselves babysitting their inboxes.


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Researchers from the University of Michigan showed that the high volume of email that managers receive places a heavy load on their mission and prevent them from achieving higher goals. Their findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Leave it alone

According to the research, employees spend 90 minutes each day – about seven and a half hours per week – recovering from interruptions from email.  It’s the same with managers, only the stakes are higher.

“Like most tools, email is useful but it can become disruptive and even damaging if used excessively or inappropriately,” study leader professor Russell Johnson said, in a release. “When managers are the ones trying to recover from email interruption, they fail to meet their goals, they neglect manager-responsibilities and their subordinates don’t have the leadership behavior they need to thrive.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 48 managers twice a day for two weeks. Managers reported the frequency of their emails and what they demanded, how often they engaged in leader behavior, and their perceived progress on their main job duties.

“We found that on days when managers reported high email demands, they report lower perceived work progress as a result, and in turn engage in fewer effective leader behaviors,” said Johnson.

This, in turn, affects their employees’ performance, productivity, and work satisfaction.

“The moral of the story is that managers need to set aside specific times to check email,” Johnson said. “This puts the manager in control – rather than reacting whenever a new message appears, which wrests control away … It takes time and effort for employees to transition between email and work tasks, so minimizing the number of times they have to make that transition is to their benefit.”

Luckily, there are a slew of productivity techniques that work just as well for managers as they do for employees. We hear the Pomodoro Technique is good.


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.